12 Quaint Seaside Villages to Explore in California

  • 12 Quaint Seaside Villages to Explore in California

    An escape to these California seaside villages feels like a voyage back in time and into another world.

    From the walkability and relaxed bohemian vibes radiating from each of these beach towns, combined with the abundance of adventures to explore, there’s no shortage of activities for visitors to feel as if they have been transported abroad. Here are 12 must-visit seaside villages across the coastline of California.

    Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

  • Fort Bragg

    Hike and bike, wine and dine, or kayak and explore this remote and wild NorCal destination. Start the day with a hot brew at Headlands Coffee House paired with some sweets from Mendocino Chocolate Company. Fort Bragg is also home to the world-famous skunk train, sea cave tours, and horseback riding excursions along the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail. After an afternoon out, spend the evening in at the Inn at Newport Ranch, a 2,100-acre private timber preserve and working cattle ranch hosting a luxury ten-unit inn along 1.5 miles of coastline. Each room on-site is different, and the food served to guests comes from the three separate gardens located right on-site. Visitors can leave their troubles behind (along with their cell service), and experience the openness of the natural land in every season.

    AlessandraRC/Shutterstock

  • Mendocino Village

    Mendocino Village on the coast of Northern California is ruggedly beautiful. Outdoorsy types can explore the Mendocino Headlands trail or Russian Gulch for stunning views, and those who would prefer to shop until they drop can walk around the downtown area and explore the cute selection of boutique shops and art galleries. Grab a snack at Frankie’s Ice Cream for a classic treat—and, for those who seek a more “adult indulgence”, visit Pacific Star Winery which is directly on the water. For dinner, Trillium Cafe is a cute and cozy stop with outdoor tables right in the garden and signature picnic boxes to go. Then, spend the night at JD House — which is part of the local hospitality group, Blue Door Inns. This B&B is the epitome of cozy seaside charm and modeled after an architectural design resembling captain’s quarters, with views of the ocean and emulating a feeling of authentic Mendocino history.

    picchu productions/Shutterstock

  • Bodega Bay

    Those who are feeling particularly adventurous can embark on a journey with Wine Country Trekking –but those who prefer to relax and remain in the village the entire visit can explore the bustling downtown area. Dive into a dungeness crab sandwich and chowder at Spud Point Crab Company (don’t forget to ask for the oyster crackers and Tobasco) followed by a stroll along the Kortum Trail which hugs the coastline for a flat walk up to nine miles of purely uninterrupted ocean views. Doran Beach is a family-friendly beach, with a wide beach area that is great for pets, water sports, and barbecue activities. For sunset, head to Bodega Head, which has been fittingly nicknamed “Heaven on Earth” for its views, followed by dinner at Terrapin Creek which serves delicious California cuisine. Finally, retire to the Bodega Bay Inn for an evening of relaxation. It is located directly above Bodega Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and well within walking distance to the local assortment of restaurants and galleries.

    Ken Schulze/Shutterstock

  • Sausalito

    From hiking, biking, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding to sailing, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy in Sausalito. This tranquil seaside village sits just north of San Francisco, in Marin County. The village boasts more than 50 restaurants hiding amongst the winding side streets, offering a plethora of undiscovered but delicious dining destinations. Stroll along the harbor and soak in the sunshine, or browse the art galleries and shops selling handmade jewelry and ceramics. Stop in for a spa treatment at Casa Madrona’s enormous spa before indulging in a drink at a harborside favorite restaurant, The Spinnaker, for breathtaking sights of the San Francisco skyline across the bay. Finally, retire to a dreamy and luxurious hotel, Inn Above Tide, after a day of adventure, and listen to the waves crashing up against the shores. Here, visitors are sleeping as close to the water as they can without actually being on a boat.

    ben bryant/Shutterstock

  • Capitola

    Capitola Village by the Sea is known as one of the oldest and most historic vacation retreats on the California Coast. Wake up to a peaceful beach-town atmosphere, and start the morning with a pastry from beloved Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria, which has been pleasing locals and visitors alike with freshly baked treats for more than 40 years. A day at the beach and an adventure to ogle at the extremely photogenic Capitola Venetian Hotel houses are a favorite pastime. Then, enjoy a happy hour cocktail or dinner at the romantic and historic Shadowbrook Restaurant, which has been open since 1947 and is best reached by using its unique hillside “Cable Car.” Retire for the evening to Capitola Hotel, a quaint 10 room boutique hotel located in the heart of the Capitola Village. Each room is uniquely decorated, and it’s the ideal location to explore any attraction in the village on foot.

    Lux Blue/Shutterstock

  • Carmel-by-the-Sea

    Carmel-by-the-Sea is an idyllic fairy-tale town and European-style village on the Central Coast and, shockingly, is only one square mile in size. Here, visitors will find more than 50 culinary options to choose from, which is more restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S. The walkable cobblestone streets host more than 100 art galleries, boutiques, and studios. Visitors can explore each 41 of the secret passageways, courtyards, and gardens before ending the day watching the sun slip behind the water at the dog-friendly white sands of Carmel Beach. Then, retire to one of the 42 luxurious and cozy boutique inns. A special choice would be the La Playa Carmel. This romantic, sophisticated beach mansion-style retreat property was built back in 1905 by a member of the wealthy Ghirardelli family to give as a gift to his wife and it has stood the test of time ever since.

    Robert Mullan/Shutterstock

  • Cambria

    One of the most classic activities to enjoy in the Central Coast’s Cambria village is a stroll along the idyllic Moonstone Beach boardwalk before hunting for real moonstones on the shores, of course. Those who are feeling even more adventurous can embark on a trail ride through a beautiful forest on a Clydesdale horse, or hike at the nearby Fiscalini Preserve. Wine taste at Stolo Vineyard in a beautiful meadow setting amongst the vines before enjoying dinner at Robin’s, which features a selection of handcrafted comfort cuisine dishes made with locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. Finish off the evening with dessert at Linn’s for a slice of their famous olallieberry pie, and spend an evening at White Water. This property is this village’s newest and most trendy, beachy bohemian-themed inn. It’s located just steps from the sands of Moonstone Beach and well within walking distance from the downtown village area.

    Mada_Cris/Shutterstock

  • Carpinteria

    Carpinteria is the classic Californian surfer city that still feels like a step back in time to a simpler era. Start the day with a sunbathing session or strolling the sands of the beautiful Carpinteria State Beach –which hosts clean and spacious sands to spend an entire afternoon. Then, shop at the boutiques lining Linden Avenue, the village’s main street, followed by grabbing a bite to eat or a drink at Padaro Beach Grill. This family-friendly seaside beach shack sits just past the train tracks and serves up a selection of tasty burgers and California beach favorites–just steps from the sand. Then, spend the night at the Carpinteria Beach Cottages , which are located just four short blocks from the beach and just a block and a half from Linden street.

    RingDeer Enterprises/Shutterstock

  • Laguna Beach

    Wake up for breakfast at La Sirena Grill located right in the downtown village area on Mermaid Street, followed by a stroll along one of the dozens of beaches–Treasure Island Beach is a particularly scenic choice. There are also plenty of murals to explore in a walk along the streets of the village. For those who prefer the mountains over the beach, there are ample hiking and biking opportunities. Watch the sunset from the Top of the World before grabbing dinner at The Deck on Laguna –Laguna Beach’s only restaurant located on the sand–which offers a fabulous cocktail menu. Spend the night at luxurious but bohemian Hotel Joaquin, which is a perfect walking distance to explore everything in town. The property’s individually designed rooms honor the Spanish heritage of Laguna Beach with fun and playful elements of design and interior detail that make each visit feel like a lavish beachside escape.

    KK Stock/Shutterstock

  • San Clemente

    Start the day with a coffee from local favorite Bear Roast Coffee before a walk on the 0.25 mile San Clemente Pier, which has been rebuilt twice since storms damaged its structural integrity after its original construction in 1928. Today’s modern-day pier is a perfect place for surfing and sunset viewing. Next, walk to the eclectic boutique shops along Avenida Del Mar , which is the main downtown shopping village district of San Clemente. Grab a bite to eat at Cafe Calypso, which is hidden within a sunny Spanish-style courtyard that was formerly home to the San Clemente Hotel, serving up healthy and light California fare. Spend the night at Casa Tropicana Boutique Beachfront Hotel which offers views of the ocean and the pier and is walking distance from San Clemente’s most beloved attractions.

    Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

  • La Jolla

    The name “La Jolla” has been traced back to loosely translate to “the jewel,” which is certainly true of this sparklingly beautiful seaside city just north of San Diego. From kayaking the sea caves, visiting the seals, or exploring the beaches and trails at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve –it’s an outdoorsy atmosphere all around. Even the restaurants play into making the most of the natural beauty of this SoCal destination’s sunny environment–George’s at the Cove is a classic outdoor stop for brunch, lunch, or cocktails with an iconic view offering multiple levels of dining space. Wind down with a relaxing night at Pantai Inn, a Balinese-inspired boutique resort where more than half the 29 rooms feature seaside views and a laid-back beachy but luxe vibe. The hotel’s pedestrian walkway connects the property straight into the village, perfect for setting as a home base.

    Dancestrokes/Shutterstock

  • Coronado Island

    Just off the coast of Southern California’s San Diego is Coronado Island, bursting with timeless charm and history. Stroll downtown along the boutiques of Orange Avenue for unparalleled window-shopping and people-watching opportunities. Next, embark on a private, romantic gondola ride through the magical canals of Coronado with The Gondola Company to feel transported abroad. End the evening with a trip to the iconic beach at Hotel del Coronado to indulge in a personalized gourmet beach bonfire session with ROAST –a cozy, family-friendly gourmet s’mores making experience. Finally, retire for the evening to one of the local luxury hospitality properties, such as the upscale Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa, famous for its living and breathing bright pink resort resident flamingos. The island is extremely bikeable, there are endless opportunities for seaside adventures on this quaint island paradise.

    HannaTor/Shutterstock

See more at Fodor's Travel